Maasai Mara is a 1500 square kilometre game reserve in Kenya, named after the famous Maasai tribe and how the landscape look like spots when seen from afar (Mara means spotted in the Maa language). The reserve is not a national park, which means that the local county council owns and “maintains” the area and the Maasi tribe are allowed to farm their livestock inside the reserve. In reality, the council takes most of the funds and the roads are poorly maintained but the landscapes are amazing! And the animals aren’t half bad either.
We arrived at the Mara at lunchtime on the first day, surviving the Kenyan traffic that involves driving much faster than the 80km speed limit and weaving in and out of lanes leaving little (if any) space between you and the cars in front and behind. I never knew that a car could move sideways without moving forwards or backwards! On the way, we drove past a little shack titled ‘The World Trade Centre’ (no wonder the world’s economy is down at the moment) before stopping at one of the 15 ‘best views of the Great Rift’ for photos and the obligatory curio shop. The last fifty or so kilometres was our first experience of a Kenyan massage, bumpy dirt roads in a minivan with no suspension and hard seats.
In the afternoon, our game drive led us through one section of the Mara and an abundance of animals, new and previously seen. Favourites included giraffes, zebras, wildebeest and the tiny antelopes called dik dik. The elusive leopard slipped through our fingers as some crazy Americans scared it off just as we arrived by parking directly under its tree and shouting at it.
That evening, we were entertained by a Maasai dance (lots of humming and loads of jumping) and a night feeding of small nocturnal animals including small wild cats and mongeese.
We awoke at four o’clock the following morning for our balloon safari over the Mara. While the animals seemed to be sleeping, the views were incredible and we did catch a glimpse of a few hippo and a family of elephants.
The afternoon game drive led us through other sections of the reserve and several thousand more animals. Eventually, the drive led to a lion chase as the five or six vans belonging to our agency teamed up to locate the lion pride that the helicopters had seen earlier in the day. We were lucky enough to see the pride on the prowl, with the female lionesses looking for food and the male lion following, awaiting the arrival of its dinner.
Thus ended our first game reserve with three of the Big Five down and just the leopard and rhino still to be encountered.